Tag: Fortress

The Wright Stuff

The Wright Stuff

Karori, New Zealand – May 14, 2016

On a lovely Saturday morning, Leslie and I drove into Wellington. Our destination was Wrights Hill Fortress in Karori, a World War II-era defensive complex. The embassy had arranged for a private tour.
We arrived early, well before any of the rest of our group. We hiked from the parking lot to the top of the hill. The view was commanding. It is no wonder the Kiwis picked that particular hill to place three 9.2-inch guns. The projectiles fired from the guns weighed in at 380 pounds. Amazingly, those projectiles could travel 18 miles (30 kilometers).

This is where one of the guns sat. The markings on the edge are a compass rose. That allowed accurate horizontal aiming.  The pit is 56 feet in diameter and 16 feet deep.
The 380-pound projectiles.

At 135 tons, each of the guns was very heavy. The barrels alone were a hefty 28 tons. One has to marvel at just how they got such massive pieces up to the hill and into place. The actual installation of two of the guns was in 1944. The third gun was never installed. As it turns out, the guns were never fired at the Japanese because the war ended. The two weapons were test-fired in 1946 and 1947, firing three rounds from each. The guns required twenty men to operate.
By the mid-1950s, the fortress was mothballed. It sat deteriorating until 1988 when the Karori Lions Club took on the task of caring for and restoring the installation. The guns themselves are long gone. As noted on the fortress’s website, the arms were ironically sold to Japan for scrap.
The three gun emplacements are connected underground by nearly one-half mile of tunnels. Some of the tubes seemed to go on forever. Our guide took us through many of the tunnels. At several locations, there are historical displays that allow one to get a better idea of how the fortress operated.

A paint-restored tunnel.

One of the more interesting rooms was the generator room. Inside, there are two old 185 horsepower diesel generators that used to supply power to operate the guns. They are no longer in working order, but the volunteers seem keen to bring them back to life. With the technology available in the mid-1940s, it must have been deafening in the generator room when they were in use.
There was another room filled with several old, rusted items. That room was used in the filming of a recent horror film. Our guide told us the name of the film, but I had never heard of it, nor did I remember the name.

The generators.
A second view of the generators.
The main power panel in the generator room.
The work area in the generator room.
This is the room that was used in the filming of a horror movie.
These projectiles could travel up to 18 miles.
One of the bunker rooms.
This is the longest section of the tunnel. It has yet to be restored.
A power distribution panel.
Typical directional signage.
Stairs leading up to gun 2.
Tunnels heading toward gun 3.
Looking out to Cooks Strait. There are two airplanes on approach to the airport.
A camouflaged entry point.
An entry point to an electrical room.
Detail of the electrical room door.
This is the structure above the generator room. The generators were some 60 feet below this point.
One of the tunnel access points.
This ladder drops down into the tunnel complex.
One of the chain anchor points near the gun emplacement.
A better-lit view of the longest tunnel.

St. Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург)

St. Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург)

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation – July 13, 2015

We docked at St. Petersburg, Russia this morning. At breakfast, Leslie and I commented that we would never have guessed we would ever visit Russia, but here we are!
This morning, we were part of orange group #1, our tour group for our visit to the Hermitage Museum. Before we got on the bus, we all had to go through passport control. It was not necessarily a breeze. The immigration officer looked closely at us. She even motioned to my passport photo in which I sported a goatee and then pointed at my now clean-shaven face. In addition to our passports, she also demanded to see our ship excursion tickets. Those essentially acted as our Russian visas. Ultimately, even though she seemed a little cranky, she did stamp both of our passports. We thought it was cool getting that entry stamp.
Leslie, Lorraine, Arlene, and I boarded the tour bus. Leslie and I lucked out and got two of the front seats. That made it helpful for taking photos on the way. It was one of several buses lined up at the cruise depot. By 09:00, we began our journey to the museum. On the way, our guide told us St. Petersburg enjoys only about 60 days of sunshine each year. That is precisely the opposite of Colorado, which enjoys approximately 300 days of sun each year. Our day was nice. It was not until later in the day when we returned to the ship that we encountered some raindrops.

All of the buses…
Buses…buses…buses!
Color on the other side of the international border. The colors are beside the ship. Standing on this side of the barrier with the buses, one is in the Russian Federation.
The business end of our Russian tour bus.

After about 30 minutes on the bus, we arrived at the museum. The Louvre in Paris, France, has long been my favorite museum, but that may be in jeopardy now. At the Hermitage, in addition to the museum, one also walks through an awe-inspiring palace. The other fact that sways me is that one of my favorite paintings is at the Hermitage, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. The only downside is the size of the exhibit area does not comfortably allow for viewing when the museum is crowded.

The green building is our first glimpse of the State Hermitage Museum, also known as the Winter Palace.
The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt (1663-1669). I got this view as our tour group walked by the portrait on their way to another.
Just before we left the Rembrandt room, the guide gave some insight into my favorite painting by the artist.

When we arrived, our guide shared that we were in luck. We were entering the museum about an hour before it opened to the public. That meant we had many portions of the museum virtually to ourselves. That worked out well for my photography.

The worn, bilingual sign near the entrance.

The museum is just over 250 years old, founded by Catherine the Great. The palace consists of six different buildings. We walked through five of them; the Winter Palace, Small Palace, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and the Hermitage Theater. The buildings total over 2.5 million square feet of space. The ornate decorations in each building and the displayed artwork are just incredible.
We entered the museum through the main Winter Palace door facing the Neva River. It took a little while to get our entire group through the turnstiles; however, once we did, we met the very ornate staircase known as the Ambassadors’ Stairs. When an ambassador visited the Tsar or Empress, they ascended the Ambassador’s Stairs. I am unclear on whether the audience took place in the Peter the Great Throne Room or the St. George Hall. Regardless, they were both stunning spaces.

The Hermitage Museum seems to stretch on forever.
Detail of the pediment above the main entrance to the Hermitage Museum.
At the base of the Ambassadors Staircase, a name used in the 1700s.
A marble statue in a niche on the upper portion of the Ambassadors Staircase.
The columns at the top of the Ambassadors Staircase.
The second landing of the Ambassadors Staircase.
A ceiling fresco above the Ambassadors Staircase.
The tour group ascending the Ambassadors Staircase.
A marble statue in a niche along the Ambassadors Staircase.
The first landing of the Ambassadors Staircase.
Marble sculptures near the top of the Ambassadors Staircase.
Our guide explains many of the features of the Ambassadors Staircase.

Departing the upper landing of the Ambassadors Staircase, we entered the Field Marshal’s Room. While it was impressive, it may have been the least remarkable space we saw that day. One may come to that opinion simply because the decorations are quite muted, not so ornate, and over the top, as some of the other spaces in the museum.
Most notable in the Field Marshal’s Room is the massive chandeliers. They each weigh a jaw-dropping two tons; 4,000 pounds! Several members of our group stood under the lights until our guide related that the chandeliers did fall once. That was enough to get everyone to clear the space.

The Field Marshal’s Room.
A vase in the Field Marshal’s Room.
A portrait of Field Marshal-General His Serene Highness Prince Tavrichesky Count Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin.

The Peter the Great Throne Room was a little more intimate than the vast expanse of the St. George Hall. The throne room had an intricate parquet and wood inlaid floor. The walls were a warm, but dark red. That red echoed in the throne dais carpet and the upholstery of the throne itself, displaying the double-headed imperial eagle on the back, an imposing figure. The ceiling consisted of arches and coffers with hints of gold leaf. It was elegant.

The throne in the small throne room of Peter the Great. The painting behind the throne chair is Peter I with Minerva dating between 1732 and 1734. The columns are made of jasper.
The parquet inlaid floor in the Small Throne Room.
The throne chair. I believe I prefer my recliner…

Leaving the Small Throne Room, we walked into the amazingly ornate Armorial Hall. The amount of gold in the hall defies description.  There was so much gold in the room that there was a gold hue throughout.
At one part of the hall, one could see through the doorway toward the throne in the St. George Hall. It is hard to imagine the numbers of staff that must have been required to make this Winter Palace a place to live and receive guests. Had I been alive in that era and in the St. Petersburg area, I am more than confident I would have never been able to set foot in the palace.
Comparing the Winter Palace living areas to the Napoleon Apartment in the Louvre in Paris is like comparing Versailles to a studio apartment in New York City. There is just no possible comparison between the two.

The Armorial Hall. By the way, all that glitters IS gold!
The Capture of Berlin on 28 September 1760 by Alexander Kotzebue (1849) in the Armorial Hall.
A very ornate lamp.
A view into the St. George Hall.
The aventurine lapidary in the Armorial Hall. Across the top of the lapidary, one can catch a glimpse of the throne in the St. George Hall.
Some of the golden columns of the Armorial Hall.
A marble sculpture in the Armorial Hall.

Even though we could see the throne in the St. George Hall, there was yet one more room to traverse; the Military Gallery. It is a long, narrow room. It is sometimes referred to as the War Gallery of 1812. The walls have dozens of paintings, all approximately the same size, of war heroes involved in the defeat of Napoleon. The entire tour group made quick work of the visit and moved on the hall.

Another tour guide leading her group through the Military Gallery.
Emperor Alexander I on his steed. The painting is in the Military Gallery. Equestrian Portrait of Alexander I by Franz Krüger (1837).
The bas relief above the door from the Military Gallery to St. George Hall.

The St. George Hall was an immense and massive space of approximately 800 square meters. That translates to about 8,500 square feet. That is more than three times the size of the average American home. A large dais, throne, and canopy dominated the east end of the hall. The throne seemed to be an exact duplicate of the throne in the Small Throne Room, including the imperial eagle. Behind the throne hung a large red banner from the canopy with an equally large imperial eagle. The ornate white and gilded ceiling soared two-stories above the floor.
Leaving St. George Hall, our group wound through some smaller spaces, ultimately stopping in Pavilion Hall. Intimate and two-stories do not necessarily go together, but this space was genuinely intimate. Dominating this hall is the 18th-Century Gold Peacock Clock. The clock is behind a glass covering. The peacock is life-size, as well as the cockerel and the owl. With such large creatures in the clock, one might think the clock face is large too, wrong. The hidden clock face is actually in a small mushroom. The automated birds originally went through a series of movements every hour. My understanding is that the clock now moves only a few times a year. That is to keep from wearing out the mechanical parts. Even though we did not see it move, it was an impressive piece.

The Peacock Clock in the Pavilion Hall dates from the 1770s.
One of our tour group members getting a closeup of the Peacock Clock.
Chandeliers in the Pavilion Hall.
The Peacock Clock.
Mosaic floor in the Pavilion Hall.
Detail of the mosaic floor in the Pavilion Hall.
Courtyard off the Pavilion Hall.
A sculpture in the courtyard titled “America.”
View from the Pavilion Hall across the Neva River to the Peter and Paul Fortress.

We ended up in the Old Dutch Masters area shortly after leaving Pavilion Hall. That is where we began seeing painters copying various paintings. They had easels, stools, and drop cloths set up. We quickly saw a dozen or more painters. Our guide shared that it was a big test for the art students through one of the local universities. I could barely take photographs of the paintings; I know there is no way I could copy one with a brush. Their talent was amazing.

This art student was copying Haman Recognizes His Fate by Rembrandt (circa 1665).
Ready to apply the paint at just the right spot.
Mixing paint.
Another view of the student copying Haman Recognizes His Fate by Rembrandt (circa 1665).
The unknown art student was copying Portrait of an Old Man in Red by Rembrandt (circa 1652-1654).
This view provides an idea of how each artist set up so as to not make a mess.
The tour group went from alcove to alcove, listening to our guide. We entered the display at the far end. That is where The Return of the Prodigal Son hangs, just out of view.
A closer view of the artist at work.
This art student is copying the Holy Family by Rembrandt (1645).

Our next viewing was the Italian Renaissance area of the museum.  Below are some of the works that caught my attention.  In this area of the museum, we found more art students copying paintings.

Madonna with Child and Two Angels by Paolo di Giovanni Fei (circa 1385).
A chandelier near the theater.
Another painting on the ceiling near the theater.
A painting on the roof near the theater.
Our guide describing an unknown painting.
This art student was copying The Madonna and Child (The Litta Madonna) by Leonardo da Vinci (circa 1495).
A stop in the Hall of Italian Renaissance Art.
This art student was copying a painting in the Hall of Italian Renaissance Art.
This art student is copying Portrait of a Lady by Lorenzo Costa (circa 1506).
The Nativity by Giovanni Della Robbia an example of 16th Century Italian majolica pottery.
An anteroom and chandelier near the theater.

Another unusual feature of the Hermitage is the Raphael Loggia. It is a relatively narrow hall, but it is around 20 feet tall. Some call the loggia Raphael’s Bible. That is because Raphael painted several stories from the Bible in this loggia.

The Raphael Loggia.
Detail over a door from the Raphael Loggia.
Detail of the ceiling from the Raphael Loggia.
Detail from the Raphael Loggia.
Our guide in the Raphael Loggia.
Detail from the Raphael Loggia.
Detail from the Raphael Loggia.

Below, in no particular order, are some of the other sights we saw in the Hermitage Museum.  The narrative continues well below the photos.

Another ornate ceiling.
A row of chairs in the Small Italian Skylight Room.
An art lover in the Small Italian Skylight Room.
Our guide imparting information in the Small Italian Skylight Room.
Martyrdom of St Peter by Caravaggio (circa 1601).
The beauty of the Small Italian Skylight Room.
The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine by Domenico Beccafumi (1521).
Madonna with Beardless St. Joseph by Raphael (1506).
An art student copying an unknown work in the Small Italian Skylight Room.
Death of Adonis by Giuseppe Mazzuola (1700-1709).
Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate by Goya (1810-1811).
An unknown art student’s copy of Boy with a Dog by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (circa 1655-1659).
This art student is copying the Repentance of Saint Peter.
Our guide was very knowledgeable.
The base of a lamp.
An unknown art student’s copy in progress of the Battle Between the Lapiths and Centaurs by Luca Giordano (circa 1688).
Meeting of Joachim and Anne near the Golden Gate by Paolo de San Leocadio (circa 1500).
Another detailed ceiling.
The Doctor’s Visit by Jan Steen (Circa 1660).
Marriage Contract by Jan Steen (circa 1668).
Detail of the large vase.
A large vase.
A small, but beautiful chandelier.
Smokin’ !!
Fruit and a Vase of Flowers by Jan Davidsz de Heem (1655).
Esther in Front of Ahasuerus by Valentin Lefevre (circa 1675-1699).
Yet another chandelier.
This painting of Jesus entering Jerusalem caught my eye.
Inlays on the side of a table.
Some very ornate chairs.
Detail of a light fixture.
Adam and Eve (The Fall of Man) by Hendrick Goltzius (1608).
Laocoon by Paolo Andrea Triscornia (1798).
Three dancing women near the exit.

The Hermitage is just like the Louvre in one respect; there is no way one can see everything. We did see many more works of art. When we emerged from the Hermitage, we saw a sea of people waiting to enter. We were glad we went when we did. We walked across the street toward the Neva River, onto our bus, and then back to the ship.

Departing the Hermitage Museum.
A boat passes by the Rostral’naya Kolonna in the Neva River.
View across the Neva River.

Back on the bus, our guide greeted us all with a Russian chocolate bar.  That was very nice of her.

Our prized chocolate bar.

At the cruise terminal, several gift shops were dealing in items designed to catch the eye of tourists. As usual, we found some refrigerator magnets.

Returning to the cruise ship.

After dinner that evening, we all went to a show. The entertainment was a troupe of 14 Russian dancers/singers.  Seven  band members accompanied them, playing authentic Russian instruments. The entire performance in Russian did not deter us from understanding what was happening.  The eye-catching traditional costumes were colorful.

The following day, our canal tour was in the afternoon. After breakfast, it was the same drill through immigration and onto a bus. Our destination was close to the Hermitage Museum. It was very cloudy. The bus stopped so we could all get off. We faced about a two-block walk to the canal boat. Some of the walking was a little dicey, but we all made it safely. While walking, we saw a bride and groom stopping to take photos.  Our guide told us it is normal for newlyweds to travel around the city, taking photographs at their favorite locations.

The bride and groom.
The bride and groom walking.

As we finished our walk, it began to drizzle. That did not stop me from taking photos. I kept clicking from under my umbrella. Shortly after the boat pulled away from the mooring, one of the workers brought us a complimentary glass of champagne, my kind of cruise!
Our boat departed its mooring on Moyka Canal. After passing the Japan Consulate, we took a quick right turn onto the canal that is on the east side of the Hermitage Museum. That canal led us to the Neva River. On the Neva, we turned to the west toward the Bolshaya Neva. I believe that means “little Neva” River. We cruised under the Dvortzovyy Most (bridge) and then under Biagoveshchenskiy Most. We made a U-turn back to the east, ultimately going under the Troitskiy Most. One right turn and we were on the Fontanka Canal. Our final right turn took us back to the Moyka Canal and our original mooring.
The bridges over the canals were extremely low. Some only had a total clearance of two meters, about six feet. If one were to stand while passing under, one would definitely lose body parts.

The Round Market building alongside the Moyka River.
A sightseeing boat on the Moyka River.
View of buildings beside the Moyka River.
Yet another sightseeing boat on the Moyka River. The Japanese Consulate can be seen in the background.
A beautiful old building, the Menshikov Palace, on the Neva River. Today, the palace serves as a branch of the Hermitage Museum.
Buildings facing the Neva River.
A view of the Rostral’naya Kolonna column on the Neva River.
Heading toward the Neva River on the Reka Zimnyaya Kanavka. The Hermitage is on either side of the canal.
Pedestrians on a bridge.
Looking back toward the Japanese Consulate.
Pedestrian walking near the Amber Palace.
According to Mr. Google, this building is known as the Pediment Genius of Glory crowning science.
No anchorage here!
A dome on an unknown building as seen from the Neva River.
The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.
Some of the more colorful buildings.
The buildings seem to never end.
Another view of the Hermitage Museum.
A fellow tourist capturing photographs from the sightseeing boat.
A view of part of the Peter and Paul Fortress from the Neva River.
Looking back at the Reka Zimnyaya Kanavka. The Hermitage is on either side of the canal.
A videographer filming to the right.
A videographer filming to the left.
Some of our fellow tourists on the sightseeing boat.
The main facade of the Hermitage Museum.
The detail on the Troitskiy Bridge over the Neva River.
A commercial building. The sign on the right seems to translate as Megaphone.
One sightseeing boat is entering the Fontanka River while the other is entering the Neva River.
A sightseeing boat preparing to enter the Fontanka River.
A closer view of the Noplasticfantastic building.
The building on the corner houses the Noplasticfantastic store.
Another sightseeing boat passing under the Troitskiy Bridge.
Pedestrians on the Troitskiy Bridge.
The entry to the Fontanka River from the Neva River.
Detail of a building across the Fontanka River from the Summer Garden.
The tree-lined walk of the Summer Garden.
The videographer at work.
A no anchorage sign.
The Tea House in the Summer Garden as seen from the Fontanka River.
Entering into the Fontanka River.
There is not a great deal of clearance under the bridge.
A view of St. Michael’s Castle from the Fontanka River.
A very colorful delivery truck as seen from the Moyka River.
A speedboat on the Moyka River.
Pedestrians on the Panteleymonovskiy Most.
The detail on the Panteleymonovskiy Most.
The tallest spire of the Savior on the Spilled Blood church was just visible from the Fontanka River.
The detail on the Panteleymonovskiy Most.
Pedestrians cross the Panteleymonovskiy Most in front of St. Michael’s Castle.
A not-so-speedy boat on the Moyka River.
The Savior on the Spilled Blood church.

Just as we docked, the downpour began. It did not let up until we were back on the bus, of course. On the way back to the ship, we stopped by the Red October souvenir shop. Surprise, we bought another refrigerator magnet. Since there was still time to burn at that stop, I took a few photographs nearby.

Teremok is a favorite Russian stop for pancake type treats.
Two young men meeting.
The top of the poster proclaims “Music of Maxim Aunaevsky.” I believe the name of the production is “Scarlet Sails.”
A nice Beemer.
I do not know what it is, but this building is at the northeast corner of Konnogvardeyskiy Bul’var and Ploshchad’ Truda. Mr. Google says it is Dvorets Velikogo Knyazya Nikolaya Nikolayevich. That doesn’t help me much…
Cars waiting for their left turn signal.
A food delivery truck.
The word at the top of the newsstand states “newspapers.”
The boys were flocking to the Teremok.
A bus stop near the newsstand.

When the bus arrived at the cruise terminal, it was about 17:00. Our seating time for dinner was 17:30. After exiting immigration, we discovered a very long line to board the ship. I think part of that was because the ship was due to depart at 17:30.  We might have been a few minutes late for dinner that night, but it was no big deal.

Waiting in line to get back on the cruise ships. Earlier in the morning, the buses were on the other side of the barrier on the left.
The dining room hostess on the ship.

Even though we spent a night on the ship in the port of St. Petersburg, we were only allowed off the boat if we were on a ship’s shore excursion. We wished we had been able to get off the ship and explore on our own, but it is what it is.
After dinner, I was able to stand on our balcony and take photographs of the Gulf of Finland. One of the highlights was the flood control dam. It is about 15 or 20 miles west of St. Petersburg. There are large motorized steel dams, which close in cases of flooding. At that location, a divided highway traverses under the water. The road is labeled KAO. I believe that is a ring road around the St. Petersburg area.
Just before the flood control dam, I saw a small island. There was a small humanmade harbor in the center. I found out later that this is Fort Kronshlot, built-in 1704 to fortify Russia from other Baltic states.
We watched a little TV in our room and then retired, ready to awake in Helsinki.

Multiple lighthouses.
Abandoned buildings at Fort Kronshlot.
Looking at Fort Kronshlot from the west. St. Petersburg is at the far distant horizon toward the left of the frame.
Another lighthouse.
The far western end of Fort Kronshlot.
A lighthouse at Fort Kronshlot.
An abandoned building at Fort Kronshlot.
Fort Kronshlot.
Passing a sailboat flying a Netherlands flag.
A tall, narrow lighthouse.
A barge coming toward the cruise ship.
Looking back toward an abandoned building on a small island. It is known as Emperor Paul I.
The barge, L’aigle.
A ship in the distance.
Another view of the odd-looking lighthouse.
An abandoned building on a small island. It is known as Emperor Paul I.
Fort Kronshlot with St. Petersburg in the distance.
The same barge.
Another view of highway A118.
One of two large flood control gates.
Looking south over one of the flood control gates along highway A118.
A sign on the building at the flood control gates. The top portion states, “The complex of protective structures protects the city of St. Petersburg from flooding.”
One of the protruding points at the flood control gates.
View of the barge with the lighthouse in the background.
As best I can tell, the name of the barge translates to “crops.”
A smaller barge.
A Russian ship. The name may be SIGULDA.
A wider view of the SIGULDA.
A Russian barge.
A point at the flood control gates departing St. Petersburg.
The Maersk Norwich on the Baltic Sea.
On the Baltic Sea.
Gathering storm clouds without the flare.
Gathering storm clouds at sunset.
The starboard side of the Maersk Norwich.

Lastly, below are random photographs I took as we rode around town on the bus going back and forth from the ship to our tours.

A woman crossing the street. I found it odd that there are two stopping areas for red lights, one on either side of the crosswalk.
The Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great in the Senate Square park.
Immediately to the left is the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library. Just ahead on the left is the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.
Steadily making our way through traffic.
A side street in St. Petersburg.
Graffiti on an abandoned building.
The yellow sign reads “detour.”
The sign reads TRUBETSKA First Class Transport. Under the phone number, it reads “around the clock.”
The Church of the Assumption of Mary on the banks of the Neva River.
A trolley passes by the intersection.
Traffic must turn right.
It looks like this baby is ready to get out.
Crossing the intersection.
A typical street.
Submarine C189, a floating museum on the Neva River.
A billboard alongside the Leytenanta Shmidta embankment.
Detail of the church spires.
The spires of the Church of the Assumption of Mary soar above the traffic.
Heading southwest on Leytenanta Shmidta embankment toward the Church of the Assumption of Mary.
Approaching some colorful buildings.
Average Avenue street sign??
Fruit stand.
The cars seem to wind their way through the trolleys without a second thought.
Two passing trolleys.
Pedestrians on a corner.
Sometimes the mixing is rather close.
Trolleys and cars mixing on the road.
Everyone wants to turn right.
Pedestrians waiting to cross.
More pedestrian crossing.
Pedestrians crossing.
Supermarket.
Clouds over the harbor.
Panoramic view of the port.
A new bridge under construction.
Drain.
Apple on a bench.
Invest in St. Petersburg.
Flowers at a roundabout near the cruise ship.
A happy tourist…now that the wine is flowing!
Photographing the new car.
After a hard day of tourism, it was time to relax on our terrace.
A helicopter landing near the cruise ship.
Front and back of a 500 Ruble note from the Bank of Russia. These two notes equal about US$15.00.
Currency leftover from the day’s adventures. This is about US$1.75.
Oslo

Oslo

Oslo, Norway – July 8, 2015

Around 05:00-ish, the Regal Princess smoothly glided northerly in the Outter Oslofjord, heading toward port in Oslo, Norway. It was very relaxing to sit on the balcony and watch the sights of the fjord silently slip by the ship. It was a long passage. We did not dock in Oslo until about 10:00 on this gray and rainy day. The temperature was somewhere around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and hazy with low cloud cover. The water had a blue-gray tint. The sea was very calm.

At times, in both the Outer and Inner Oslofjords, the rain was ferocious.

The previous night we slept with our balcony door wide open. I thought that was very comfortable. It was chilly, which made for good sleeping. We could hear the sound of the sea as the ship cut through the water. For me, that was very relaxing.
The scenery from our balcony was beautiful. Some areas were an utterly pristine forest, from the cloudy hilltops, ending at the rocky seashore. Some areas had houses interspersed throughout. Looking at several homes on a hillside reminded me of looking at houses on the hill in Cascade, Colorado. At one point, at the end of Oscarsborg island, there was a military gun emplacement. It is the Oscarsborg Fortress, charged with defending the seaward approach to Oslo.

Homes along the shore of the picturesque Outer Oslofjord.
Gun emplacement at the south end of Oscarsborg Fortress on Oscarsborg Island. This is in the Inner Oslofjord.
A closer view of the gun emplacement at Oscarsborg Fortress.
One of the buildings on Oscarsborg Island.
The small dock at Oscarsborg Island is visible in the lower right.
The dock area and white hotel at Oscarsborg Island.
A wider view as the cruise ship slips by Oscarsborg Island.
The rugged coast of the Inner Oslofjord.

Marinas, along with colorful buildings and homes, seemed to be everywhere. One must wonder just what life is like this far north.
From our balcony, once we had docked, we saw water taxis of various sizes and ferries continually moving to and from Oslo. We even saw a seaplane go by at one point. The weather did not seem to deter anyone on their travels.

One of the many ferries we passed on this cold and rainy morning.
I am not sure what building is at the lower left, but it reminds one of something built from Legos.
A lone seaplane flying above the fjord.
A sightseeing boat approaching the port of Oslo.
Sheets of rain plagued our arrival to Oslo.
The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art at Oslo.
A larger ferry departing Oslo.
City hall as seen from the Oslo port.
As the cruise ship was preparing to dock, Akershus Fortress and Castle came into view.

When we got off the ship, we boarded one of the Hop-On-Hop-Off buses that were right by the cruise ship dock. It was raining very hard. We ended up getting off the bus near the royal palace. It was beautiful even though we did not go inside.

The rather red interior of the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus at the port of Oslo. The windows on the right are those of the cruise ship.

We tried to keep the perpetual rain from dampening our spirits. We ended up walking around the palace area of town, seeing some magnificent architecture such as the University of Oslo and the National Theater buildings.

Det Kongelige Slott or The Royal Palace of Norway.
A closer view of the Royal Palace entry.
Wet tourists on a wet day, walking along a wet street, in front of a wet Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law.
The front of the Nationaltheatret.
A sculpture on the side of the Nationaltheatret.
An advertisement for some of the upcoming works at the Nationaltheatret.
One of the many trolleys operating in the area.
Some flowers in the park enjoying the rain.
More flowers soaking in the rain.
The rain continued as tourists took in the sights of a small park. The pond is used as an ice skating rink in the winter.

We also saw the Oslo Radhus (city hall). It has an art deco style, no doubt due to construction beginning in 1931. This building is world-famous as the home of the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that occurs every year on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Probably the most eye-catching feature of the building is the astrological clock. The twelve signs of the zodiac are interspersed on the face of the clock. I must say with all of the hands; I was a little stumped on just how to tell the time.

At the end of the street is the Oslo city hall.
The entry to the Oslo city hall.
Detail of the clock at the Oslo city hall.
The fountain at the front entrance to the Oslo city hall.

Ultimately we found a store in which to do some shopping for Norway tourist junk. It was easy to find all of the “junk” we could ever want. We found refrigerator magnets, office magnets, moose lanyards, and even moose underwear!
Leaving the shopping behind, we stopped at a street-side cafe on Karl Johans Gate, Egon. Our server, Lorena, was amiable. She was actually from Grand Canary, in the Canary Islands of Spain. She said she had been in Oslo for only one week. When we inquired what had prompted her to come to Norway, she replied she had just gotten divorced. Regardless, she was very happy and quite keen to talk to us.
After having such a large breakfast on the ship, we were not yet hungry. Instead, we shared a pitcher of Ringnes, a Norwegian beer.

The sidewalk seating area of Egon Restaurant.
Lorena, our very nice and friendly Spanish server at Egon Restaurant.
My Oslo companion!
Pedestrians passing by Egon Restaurant.

When we finished the beer, we got back on the bus and sat through numerous stops. We chose to see the sights from the bus, letting the others hop on and hop off. The bus drove through some rural areas with horses and cattle scattered in the lush green fields. It is a lovely country.

An ornate metal door.
A quaint looking coffee shop in Oslo.
A view of our cruise ship across from some construction.
The Auster Salon and Academy in Oslo.
A view into an office while stopped at a red light in Oslo.
A portion of the Frognerkilen Marina.
Horses in a paddock in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
A beautiful home in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
People getting off the bus near a telephone booth in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
One of the typical buildings we rode by in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
Some dairy cows in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
A new complex of offices and apartments.
People were out and about despite the weather.
A typical side street in Oslo.

We got off the bus at the cruise ship dock. Directly across the street from the ship is Akershus Fortress and Castle. It cost about $7 for both of us to enter.  It was still raining hard, so it was nice to be inside, dry and relatively warm.

The path to the entry point of the Akershus Fortress and Castle in Oslo.
The welcome sign to the fortress. The cruise ship is in the background.
A lonely canon overlooking the harbor.
The ancient canons seem to be trained on the cruise ship.

The castle, built in 1300, offered a self-guided tour with headphones. Surprisingly, there was a lot of the palace open to visitors. I found it to be the “coziest” castle we have ever toured. I imagine that is due to the much smaller scale of this castle. For example, compared to the Palacio Real in Madrid, the Akershus Castle is more like a country retreat.
There is a royal guard at the main entrance to the castle. There is an active military base still on the grounds. The guard stands stoically, neither speaking or moving…until a tourist tried to pose for a photograph on his right side, his weapon side. He immediately motioned that she must stand on his left. Once that happened, he allowed several pictures.

A couple exiting Akershus Fortress near the royal guard.
A royal guard at one of the entries to the Akershus Fortress.
A portion of the fortress viewed from inside the perimeter wall.
A lonely soul walking in the rain at the fortress.
Our cruise ship awaits.
Looking out of a gun-port at the Akershus Fortress.
A courtyard area within the Akershus Fortress.
The royal coat of arms inside the Akershus Fortress.
A painting and a piece of furniture inside the Akershus Castle.
Detail of some clothing on display in the Akershus Castle.

The castle still houses the royal chapel. In the chapel, one can see the royal box or balcony. That is obviously where the royals sit when they attend services.  The seating toward the front were individual chairs.  Farther back were some traditional pews.

View of the Akershus Castle Church from the rear of the church.
Detail of the altar in the Akershus Castle church.
The Royal Crest on the altar in the Akershus Castle church.
The Royal seating area in the Akershus Castle church.
The organ at the rear of the Akershus Castle church.
Detail of the end of a pew in the Akershus Castle church.  The monogram denotes King Haakon VII, the great grandfather of the current monarch, King Harald V.
A bible on display in the Akershus Castle church.
Looking through the rolled-glass windows from the Akershus Castle church toward the cruise ship.

The royal mausoleum, as one might imagine, is directly below the chapel. Our visit to the crypt reminded me of our trip to El Escorial in Spain.

Detail of the gate to the Royal Mausoleum crypt of King Haakon VII and Queen Maud as well as King Olav V and Crown Princess Märtha.
The white sarcophagus contains the remains of King Haakon VII and Queen Maud. The years of death were 1957 and 1938. The green sarcophagus contains the remains of King Olav V and Crown Princess Märtha. The years of death were 1991 and 1954 respectively.

One of the oddest things I saw were two small pieces of stained glass in the Hall of Olav V. Most of the scenes were religious; however, two stood out. They each looked like characters from the Ghostbusters movie. That was a little strange for something dating from 1300.

Ghostbusters stained glass.
Ghostbusters stained glass II.
A more traditional stained glass.
The entire stained glass rosette.
The upper hall in Akershus Castle.
The opposite end of the upper hall in Akershus Castle. This puts the stained glass rosette in perspective.
A room in the Akershus Castle.
A suit of armor on display in the Akershus Castle.
Additional tapestries in the Akershus Castle.
A tapestry in the Akershus Castle.
A sword on the wall in the Akershus Castle.
Several flags on display in the Akershus Castle.
Detail of a royal flag in the Akershus Castle.
Detail of a royal flag in Akershus Castle.
One of the larger reception rooms in Akershus Castle.
A room in Akershus Castle with period furniture.
Another room and fireplace in Akershus Castle.
Detail of a tapestry in the castle.
Louise (1724-1751) of Great Britain, Queen Consort of Denmark and Norway. Married to King Frederick V of Denmark.
Seating for 70 in this dining room in Akershus Castle.
Coat of arms of King Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway (1699 to 1730).
Tapestry detail in Akershus Castle.
A fireplace in Akershus Castle.
The bow of the Regal Princess.
A little bit of civilization by the fjord.
“Illegal Immigration Started with Columbus.” I shall notify the Consul General…
Detail of the handles on the canons near the Akershus Fortress.
The canon seems to be holding the cruise ship at bay.
A boat heading to the dock.
A view of the port of Oslo. Near the top of the hill, one can see the Olympic ski jump installation.
Boats and ships everywhere.
Flowers for my bride to begin our cruise.
A cloudy, rainy day.
A motor yacht going by the cruise ship.
A ferry departing the port of Oslo.
A seagull checking out the photographer.

When we left the castle, we boarded the ship to prepare for dinner.

Washington’s Home

Washington’s Home

Mount Vernon, Virginia – August 15, 2014

Leslie and I took a boat from Alexandria to Mount Vernon. I had done that a year ago, but Leslie had never been there.
We took the Metro to the King Street station. It was too early for the free King Street Trolley, so we began looking for a taxi. While we were standing on the curb looking for a cab in the traffic, an unmarked vehicle pulled up. The driver asked us if we had called for a taxi. That was a little creepy. We said no and sent him on his way.
Shortly after that encounter, we were able to flag down a marked taxi, and the driver got us to the waterfront quickly since there was not much traffic at that hour.
The taxi dropped us off near The Torpedo Factory building. Since we had time, we decided to get a coffee and something to eat. We stopped at the first cafe we came to, and each ordered a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich. It took forever to make the sandwiches. When we finally got the sandwiches and coffee, we sat at a table right beside the marina. It was a beautiful sight. The lunch was not very good. Each one had just one link sausage split lengthwise. It was a good thing the view was so lovely.

The dock area in Alexandria, Virginia. The Torpedo Factory building is in the distance.
The stern of the boat that takes tourists from Alexandria, Virginia to Mount Vernon.
A US Airways plane on final approach to Reagan National Airport.

We finished our breakfast, picked up our tickets, and waited to board the boat, the Miss Christin. Once aboard, we took the first two seats on the starboard side, near the captain.
As the boat pulled away, one of the crew picked up a microphone and began telling us stories and interesting tidbits as we motored along.
Our first stop after some fifteen minutes or so was National Harbor. The boat stopped at two different docks. We picked up some passengers at each stop. All totaled, our trip from Alexandria to Mount Vernon took about one hour.

Some undoubtedly pricey townhomes fronting on the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia.
Signage on the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge. The bridge connects Alexandria, Virginia and Oxon Hill, Maryland.
The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.
The Capital Wheel is a Ferris wheel in the National Harbor.
The Sea Star motor yacht docked at the National Harbor.
The Capital Wheel with Maryland in the background.
American Way ends at the sign for National Harbor.
The National Elite docked at the National Harbor.
The cityscape at National Harbor, Maryland.

Continuing down the river, one keeps looking for the first glimpse of the Mount Vernon estate. The first view from the river is a postcard spectacular.

Mount Vernon as seen from the Potomac River.
A sailboat motoring on the Potomac River. Mount Vernon is visible in the distance.

When we disembarked, we received tickets for our tour of the mansion. Printed on the cards was the time, 12:30. That meant we could get in line for the mansion tour any time after 12:30. We walked from the dock to the shuttle bus. The shuttle took us to the visitor center. We opted to go to the gift shop first.
After a quick walk through the gift shop, we stopped in the cafeteria. A couple of slices of pizza later, and we were ready to stand in line to tour the mansion. First, I had to take a photo of the head of Washington in the back-lit glass. It turned out well.

In the education center at Mount Vernon, one can marvel at the larger-than-life convex face of George Washington. As the viewer changes location, the face seems to follow the viewer.

Somewhere I heard Mount Vernon has over 1,000,000 visitors each year. With numbers like that, they have the tour down to a science. Every bit as iconic as the view of Mount Vernon from the Potomac River is the view of the mansion from the west side.  The well-manicured lawn, the Bowling Green, makes it look particularly inviting.

The Bowling Green leading to the west side of the mansion. Many of the trees on the sides were planted by George Washington circa 1785.
The west side of the mansion.
An octagonal privy. At about 50 meters (165 feet), the privy is well away from the mansion.
The west side of the mansion.
The north side of the kitchen building.
Candle lanterns were once used to light the driveway on the west side of the mansion.
A covered walkway leading to the west side entrance point for the mansion tour.
The kitchen building as seen from the covered walkway.
The lines of people to visit the mansion seem endless. That stated the time to wait goes very quickly.

From the time we began to stand in line until we entered the mansion was only about 15 minutes. Given the number of people there that day, I do not think it took very long.

Leslie summed up the tour the best; she said it gave her goosebumps. It is worth the trip to Mount Vernon. Readers interested in a virtual tour of Mount Vernon can click on the hyperlink.

When we left the mansion, we looked at a few of the outbuildings. Then we made our way to the piazza on the west side of the estate. The patio looks over the Potomac River. There are numerous chairs on the veranda. We sat there for 15 or 20 minutes. It was very relaxing. We could imagine the Father of our Country sitting there enjoying a cigar or pipe after dinner with friends. That is a part of history that not everyone gets to enjoy.

People in the queue to enter the Servant’s Hall. That is the starting point for the tour of the mansion. One can see the queue goes well back into the trees.
One of the tour guides in period costume.
Washington’s carriage in the stables.
Detail from the side of Washington’s carriage.
The piazza on the east side of the mansion. Sitting in the chairs, one overlooks the Potomac River.
The east side of the mansion.
A very happy tourist sitting at the piazza.

Descending from the mansion area toward the Mount Vernon Wharf, we stopped to pay our respects at the Washington crypt. It is both eerie and fascinating.

Visitors file by the “new” tomb.
The “new” tomb structure. The Washington family remains were moved to this tomb in 1831. Martha Washington is on the left and George is on the right.